Churchill By-Fellow, Bhanu Kapil, has won the prestigious T.S. Eliot Poetry Prize for her work, How to Wash a Heart. The Prize, which former Poet Laureate Andrew Motion has described as “the Prize most poets want to win”, is awarded annually for the best new poetry collection published in the UK or Ireland.

Chair Lavinia Greenlaw said: “Our shortlist celebrated the ways in which poetry is responding to profound change, and the stylistic freedom that today’s poets have claimed. From this impressive field, we unanimously chose Bhanu Kapil’s How to Wash a Heart as our winner. It is a radical and arresting collection that recalibrates what’s possible for poetry to achieve.”

Speaking of her win, Bhanu said “I am honoured to receive the T.S. Eliot Prize, in a year with such a powerful shortlist. This is a book I wrote in transit, in ways that seem strange and outmoded now: the flight from Oslo to Denver, or the spaces I inhabited in Colorado and then Cambridge. In Churchill College, in the Sheppard Flats, I edited this book and gathered the courage to begin writing a long-held work, a novel that reverses the plot (in it’s entirety) of the colonial classic, The Secret Garden.  What last night’s win brings is a message from the outside: keep going. Though actually, it’s been a more internal capacity or creative life that I’ve been able to cultivate during my time as an artist by-fellow. This morning, I woke early, made a coffee, and went to visit the snowdrops behind the chapel as the sun rose over the college grounds. So, I’m overwhelmed with gratitude, but also a sense of possibility. My book, How To Wash A Heart, is written alongside a contemporary history of migration: the sense of cumulative racial trauma as something that’s held in the body, or that lodges in its tissues. I was reading Dr. Priyamvada Gopal’s Insurgent Empire during the time I wrote the first draft, in 2019, not knowing that I would come to Cambridge or be housed in a college in proximity to her own: brilliant fire.  So, I honour what it is to be here at all, and to keep thinking about bodies, histories, and belonging. This is a photograph I took this morning, of a sculpture I made, of an anatomical heart, from the snow scooped from behind the Möller Institute, and some red food colouring!”

Two books laying on snowy ground "How to Wash a Heart" by Bhanu Khapil, and "The Complete Poems and Plays" by T.S. Eliot. A red patch stains the snow beside the books.

You can watch Bhanu reading from How to Wash a Heart in the video below: